Posted on 5/31/2022
Grayton Beach is one of the oldest vacation communities located along Scenic 30A in South Walton beside the shimmering white shoreline and gleaming emerald-toned Gulf of Mexico. It has quite a history, and in recent years the historic village center has become a popular destination for wonderful beach gatherings among our Ocean Reef Resorts guests. Due to its scenic natural beauty, it was actually originally planned to become a beach resort well over 100 years ago.
This pristine part of Northwest Florida was considered to be one of the state's last frontiers. The original settlement in southern Walton County was based upon cypress and pine timber mills along Choctawhatchee Bay that began in the 1840s. Steamboats hauled the lumber to Pensacola for sale from the early bayside timber community of Pt. Washington. Nearby Destin became a fishing town at about the same time. Tourism did not become a part of the scene anywhere near here until the Louisville & Nashville Railroad track was laid connecting Pensacola to Tallahassee for passenger trains in 1884. A gentleman on the railroad survey crew named Colonel W. D. Chipley envisioned future growth due to the beauty of the area and the warmth of winters here compared to northern climates. He bought a piece of property beside a large round pond near the new railroad tracks to establish a "winter home" for northern guests in 1901, which was the beginning of DeFuniak Springs. The southern portion of Walton County near present-day Grayton Beach was disconnected from DeFuniak Springs due to vast forests, marshlands, the wide expanse of Choctawhatchee Bay, and no paved roads.
However, an Army major named Charles T. Gray discovered this area by horseback and built a homestead here in about 1885 when the only other settlement was about five miles away at Point Washington on the bay. In 1890 Army General William Miller and Mr. William Wilson were introduced to this special setting. They saw its potential to become a beach resort. They moved their families here while mapping it out for village streets and parcels of land designated to build residential homes or cottages. This new community was named after Gray and platted as a town called Grayton Beach, but only a handful of cottages were established here. The only regular tourists were some farming families near DeFuniak Springs who used to journey down to the beach by horse and wagon during the summers. They came down to fish, boil water from the gulf to create sea salt, and let their kids enjoy swimming.
In 1907 a man originally from New York named W. H. Butler settled in DeFuniak Springs on a farm he established there. In 1913 he traveled by horseback to the gulf coast and also discovered this small community and the beautiful beach setting. After seeing the lucrative development completed in DeFuniak Springs, Butler bought a majority interest in the proposed town and built a two-story hotel to attract tourists. The oldest homes and cottages in Grayton Beach were simple wood-framed structures with pine clapboard exteriors. Nothing much happened, though, because there were still only dirt roads through the woods, sandy trails near the beach, and no electricity. This started to change in 1935 when a paved two-lane road was built connecting Destin to Panama City, which became Highway 98. Another paved road connected Grayton Beach to the rest of the world via Highway 98 for the first time in 1938.
Butler built a General Store and a few more homes and cottages, which must have been charming since they were lighted by kerosene lamps or candles since there was still no electricity at that time. The big General Store was the only marketplace around and also served as a popular Dance Hall on Saturday nights when folk as far away as Destin would come over to party. Grayton Beach was managed by the Butler family during the summer months when they rented out cottages, sold a few lots, and operated the village's General Store. In 1939 a draw bridge was built over the Choctawhatchee Bay, connecting DeFuniak Springs to the new highway in the southern part of the county. The U.S. Coast Guard set up a base in Grayton Beach during World II, and by the late 1940s, electricity was finally established here since now Grayton Beach was now accessible by car. More people started to hear about this heavenly location with gorgeous jewel-toned waters beside the sugar-white beach.
Photo courtesy Pathway to Paradise on Florida's Emerald Coast
A few homes were built in the 1950s and early 1960s made from cinder-block or raised on stilts in case of water surges from storms. However, Grayton Beach went through a sleepy period of time for a few decades when not much happened here. It became known as a small, decidedly laid-back village with somewhat eccentric inhabitants, their free-roaming dogs, and artists. A popular bumper sticker at the time stated, "Grayton Beach: Nice dogs. Strange People." Efforts to build large condominiums or residential developments were met with fierce opposition from most of the village residents. In addition, natural environmental barriers included lakes on each side as well as the open Gulf of Mexico to the south. In 1967 the state acquired 2,000 acres surrounding Western Lake on its border next to the beautiful beach to create the Grayton Beach State Park. After years of lobbying by the residents, this park was expanded in 1985 to include rolling dunes along the beach next to the village towards the west and an expanse of forest to the north.
In the early 2000s, when new picture-perfect coastal villages began to pop up along Scenic 30A, the charming village of Grayton Beach was rediscovered after over 100 years of its original inception. This is not surprising because, just like back in the 1890s, the village center borders the glittering luminescent gulf and the sensational setting of Western Lake. Coastal Dune lakes of this kind are a rare natural treasure and are found hardly anywhere else in the entire world. They support an abundant array of fish, waterfowl, and wildlife. This lovely lake and shimmering shoreline are part of the expansive, highly acclaimed Grayton Beach State Park, which is consistently named as being among the most beautiful beaches in America.
Today the historic original Grayton Beach village center provides a captivating laid back setting of wonderful golden years gone by. The famous Red Bar is there, featuring great food, craft cocktails, wine, beer, and live musical entertainment nightly. The unique Zoo Gallery across the street features a vibrant array of colorful decorative art, jewelry, and one-of-a-kind beach-inspired furnishings created by select artists nationwide. The Tribe Kelley Surf Post right next door offers a wide array of chic, fashionable coastal clothing along with handpicked shore-styled accouterments. Nearby the Chiringo Restaurant & Bar features Spanish Tapas along with seafood, favorite drinks, and seasonal entertainment. The popular AJ's Seafood & Oyster Bar is only about a minute away by car featuring delicious gulf caught entrees and rollicking live bands every night. This locale is also a short distance away from many other restaurants, beach bars, fashion boutiques, and specialty shops in other picturesque coastal villages. Nearby Seaside and Santa Rosa Beach village center at Gulf Place also feature outdoor amphitheater concerts and fun festivals throughout the year.
Ocean Reef Resorts has many 30A vacation rentals of all kinds within walking distance of the enchanting Grayton Beach village center or very close by. Enjoy viewing each one of our property offerings on our very user-friendly website. You will find aerial views of each locale, vivid property images, detailed descriptions, seasonal rental rates, and calendar dates available to make your own reservation. Now you can enjoy experiencing a fun vacation at one of the oldest "beach resorts" on this gorgeous part of the Emerald Coast!
Related Content: 10 Photos Showing How Beautiful Grayton Is